For Reel

Of Mice and Men (1939)
May 21, 2015, 9:38 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Lewis Milestone
5 Stars
Of Mice and MenWhether it is because of the overcrowded year in which it was released or John Ford’s more acclaimed treatment of a Steinbeck novel the following year (The Grapes of Wrath), Of Mice and Men has been strangely neglected in the decades since its release. But seen today, director Lewis Milestone’s adaptation is not only a harrowing treatment of the classic novel, but an exciting piece of cinema in its own right. The picture begins with George (Burgess Meredith) and Lennie (Lon Chaney Jr.) on the run even before the credits roll, which was a pretty radical stylistic innovation for its time and one that articulates the history that the men have shared together. Moreover, a narrow escape is a fitting prologue for one of Hollywood’s great achievements in representing dread on screen. Although much of the material involves George and Lennie discussing their future, one can sense the impending tragedy due to the dark, melancholic tone that Milestone achieves. The scene in which Candy’s (Roman Bohnen) old dog is to be put down is presented as an excruciating wait for the inevitable–a microcosm for the film itself. Besides the two great leading performances, Charles Bickford is terrific as Slim. He’s the most adept force of good in the picture, but even he must back down when confronted with the harsh realities of the world.

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